NATO’s Philosophers

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Santiago Zabala and Claudio Gallo at Aljazeera: In a recent article – Putin’s philosophers: Who inspired him to invade Ukraine? – we outlined the theoretical stances of three thinkers who likely helped build the geopolitical vision of the Russian president and inspired his ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Indeed, there are many ways in which the views and works of Vladislav Surkov, Ivan Ilyin, and Alexandr Dugin can help us understand the idea of Russian exceptionalism and the ideology that drives Putin. But looking only at the thinkers who inspired Putin is, of course, not enough to understand the devastating war in Ukraine in all its complexity. The Russian leader, after all, says he felt compelled to invade the country in late February due to the North Atlantic Alliance’s (NATO) ongoing expansion towards his country’s borders. So what, or who, inspired NATO to act this way? Which thinkers were behind the NATO strategies that paved the way for a conflict that has killed thousands of people, displaced millions, and raised the possibility of nuclear war?

Habermas promotes a model of social democracy that transcends the boundaries of nation-states. Digital illustration by Irshad Salim

Of course, as is also the case with the strategies of the Kremlin, it is impossible to link any particular NATO strategy firmly to a particular philosopher. But this is not to say that the theoretical stances and ideological arguments of certain thinkers have not inspired, legitimized or motivated certain crucial actions of the US-led military alliance. There are at least four Western philosophers whose views and works can provide us with a deeper understanding of how the current conflict materialized, and perhaps teach us how to prevent others in the future. The foremost notion that ties these Western-born philosophers together is the belief that rationalism is a universal structure embedded in the soul of the entire humanity – they attach universality to their ideas but in reality promote nothing but strictly Western ideals.

The first thinker that can help us understand NATO’s actions and motivations in the period leading up to the Ukraine war is perhaps revered German philosopher Jurgen Habermas. Habermas was against the invasion of Iraq in 2003 but supported NATO’s bombardment of Yugoslavia in 1999 without UN approval (two acts equally untenable from a legal point of view). Given the threat of nuclear escalation, in the context of the Ukraine war, he is now calling for a “compromise that saves face for both sides”. These seemingly contradictory stances demonstrate the anti-universalistic caveat and pragmatism that underlines his philosophy. But they do not betray the fact that Habermas promotes a model of social democracy that transcends the boundaries of nation-states – a cosmopolitan democracy that is bound to become a global political order.

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